Posts Tagged ‘Randy Johnson’

The Catcher Question

October 27, 2016
Buck Ewing's Hall of Fame plaque

Buck Ewing’s Hall of Fame plaque

Recently somebody asked me who I thought were the greatest catchers ever. I made the appropriate reply, “Got me.” I think that rating catchers is the hardest rating job in baseball (well, maybe pitchers). The position is so different and so many factors that don’t weigh on other positions come into play that I don’t think any of us have yet come up with a definitive set of statistical information to answer that simple question.

There are a lot of reasons this is true. Let me give you one quick example: Buck Ewing. How good was he? It is evident from the information we have that he was a great, great player. But he was a great, great player in a game that was different from the modern game. Ewing’s career spans the 1880s and 1890s and for almost all the 1880s and the first part of the 1890s pitchers were restricted on how they could throw, and however they threw, they didn’t do it from a mound 60″6′ away from a home plate that was shaped differently than the modern one. Also, Ewing is a catcher. And that really does matter. “The tools of ignorance” are still evolving today and in the 1880s were in their infant stage. His glove might have kept his hand warm in winter, but wasn’t going to do much else. There was some padding, but not much. According to SABR, the catcher’s mask was an Ivy League invention of the mid 1870s and was essentially an adaption of the fencing mask. The chest protector comes in the early 1880s and is sometimes credited to Deacon White (again according to SABR). Flimsy is the operative word here. So how good was Buck Ewing at doing his fielding job? Well, the numbers show him not bad for 1880, but simply lousy for today. And part of that has to do with the equipment he’s using. And that’s a major problem with comparing catchers. The equipment today is just better.

We also have to deal with a factor of American history: segregation. By general consensus the best Negro League catchers were (alphabetically) Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey, and Louis Santop. How good were they? Again, “Got me.” I have some records available, but they are spotty and almost all of them are hitting, not fielding records. At the current stage of our knowledge we can determine that the Negro League catchers were good, but exactly how good is still a question.

And for course for catchers, fielding matters. Most people who saw both Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski play will tell you that Yaz was the better fielder. And nobody cares. If you hit like Williams no one cares if you can catch, they’ll find a place to play you (Hello, Harmon Killebrew). Greg Maddux was a superior fielding catcher and no one ever said that about Randy Johnson. Why? Because deep down inside no one cared. Maddux was there to pitch and if he could field well then that was gravy. Johnson had less gravy but did his main job more or less as well and that’s what mattered. It doesn’t work that way with catchers (and shortstops). You have to be able to field your position and with all the work that SABR and Bill James and the various stat guys have done, fielding stats are still a work in progress, and catching stats are less far along than other positions (probably because there are so many more to consider).

Until these problems are solved answering the “greatest catcher” question is at best a crap shoot, although by now we can call it a more “educated” chap shoot than it used to be when I was a kid. I am comfortable in saying that almost all the “greatest” catchers played since World War II (with possible exceptions like Ewing, Gabby Hartnett, and the 3 Negro Leaguers I mentioned above). Beyond that I’m shooting craps with everyone else.

Thoughts on the Class of 2015

January 7, 2015

Yesterday the Hall of Fame chose Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz for enshrinement. It’s being touted as the largest class chosen by the writers since 1955 and one of the largest ever. Here are some thoughts on the election.

1. Nothing in the world wrong with the four candidates elected. All have solid cases for enshrinement and I’m glad to see each get in.

2. Mike Piazza was the candidate who came closest to election without getting a plaque. I’m not quite sure what to do with Piazza. I personally think he’s Hall worthy, but I understand that many of the writers are worried about PED issues. Apparently less are worried each year and less are worried than are worried about either Clemens or Bonds. Writers seem not to know what to do about catchers. Of all catchers currently in the Hall only Johnny Bench is a first vote member. That means that Yogi Berra, Yogi Berra for God’s sake, isn’t a first ballot Hall of Famer. Neither is Roy Campanella, nor is Carlton Fisk, nor Gary Carter. And I suppose I can probably push that out all the way to Joe Mauer (who I think will make it). I’m not certain why this is true. My guess is that catchers put up smaller numbers than players at other positions and no one’s quite sure how you quantify catching stats, so there’s a certain reluctance to add them to the Hall of Fame. That’s also a guess on my part.

3. Staying with Piazza a moment, it looks like he will become the test case for PEDs. If he gets in, and so far his trajectory is toward election, then we’re going to have to face the issue head on. Because if he says, after he’s in (not after he’s elected, but after the ceremony makes it official) that “Yeah, I used the stuff,” then they can’t throw him out and they can’t say “No PED users in the Hall” because they’ve already got one. That will force the door open for the others. In all that I don’t mean to imply that I know or believe that Piazza was a PED user, merely that there is doubt in some minds.

4. I don’t understand the Bonds/Clemens votes. If you think PED use is not a disqualifier for the Hall of Fame, surely you believe they have the numbers for election. If you think PED use is a  disqualifier surely you don’t vote for either. I’m not quite sure why they ended up with different vote totals (206 for Clemens and 202 for Bonds). Did four voters actually think Clemens should get in and Bonds not? I guess so. And I further guess that the BBWAA is very unpredictable. BTW, I note that my “strategic voting” idea from last year (“How the heck did someone not vote for Maddux?”) is now being gloried in by some of the voters. I take full credit. 🙂

5. On a personal level in my post on my ballot I voted for 10. Seven of them ended up being the top seven vote getters. The other three all received enough votes to remain on the ballot.

6. That’s not quite true. It was the 15th and last chance for Don Mattingly. He didn’t get in and now must wait for the Vet’s Committee. Alan Trammell (who I chose) faces the same situation next year with Lee Smith and Mark McGwire (who I didn’t select) one year later. Smith has benefit of the 15 year rule, while McGwire does not.

7. Of the first timers on the ballot, Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra were the only one’s who got enough votes to stay alive for next year (and Garciaparra did it by only 0.5% of the vote). It doesn’t bode well for either in subsequent years, but I’m glad each stayed alive so we can take another year to review their cases for election. Right now I’m inclined to pass on Sheffield and I frankly don’t know what to do with Garciaparra.

8. Now on to 2016 and the arrival of Ken Griffey on the ballot. Also available next year will be Trevor Hoffman, Jim Edmonds, Mike Lowell, and David Eckstein. I don’t expect much support for either Lowell or Eckstein, but will be most interested to see how Edmonds does.

9. Finally, again congratulations to this year’s new Hall of Famers. Enjoy the moment, guys.

Congrats to the Newest HoF Members

January 6, 2015

Congratulations to Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio on their election to the Hall of Fame. Of new names on the ballot, Nomar Garciaparra at 5.5% and Gary Sheffield at 11.7% are the only players to remain for next year’s ballot. Vote totals can be found on the Hall of Fame website. Comments later.

My Picks for the 2015 Hall of Fame Vote

November 28, 2014

Every year I post, once the Hall of Fame ballot comes out, my choices for the Hall of Fame. As the Hall gives each voter 10 votes, I, in the grand tradition of Southern Politics, take every vote I can get. So I always vote for 10, knowing many fewer will make it. But I look at it this way, it’s a chance to produce my “Jim DeShaies Vote”. For those of you who don’t remember, DeShaies was a Houston pitcher who played long enough to get on the Hall of Fame ballot. He worked in broadcasting and in 2001 started a campaign to get a vote for the Hall. He got exactly one.

Knowing that half of you are having major heart palpitations and breathing problems waiting breathlessly (see what I mean about breathing problems?) for my announcement, here we go, in alphabetic order new guys first and holdovers later.

1. Randy Johnson–if you don’t know why, you haven’t been paying attention.

2. Pedro Martinez–see Johnson above.

3. John Smoltz–Smoltz was the third of the great Atlanta triumvirate (Maddux and Glavine being the others) of the 1990s. Unlike the other two he didn’t win 300 games. He did, however, produce 154 saves. With Atlanta usually having bullpen problems, Smoltz gave up his starter role and spent a bit more than three seasons working as the closer (primarily 2002-2004 and much of 2001 in the same role) . He led the NL in saves one of those years (2002). Later he went back to starting and led the NL in wins. He has a Cy Young Award. A couple of injuries and the three + years in the bullpen cost him a shot at 300 wins. I’d vote for him anyway.

Now the holdovers:

4. Jeff Bagwell–premier first baseman in the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st Century. Won an MVP in strike shortened 1994. Hit 449 home runs with 1529 RBIs in a 15 year career. Had nine seasons of 5+ WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) and two others just under five. His OPS+ is 149. He suffers from the taint of being a good power hitter in the steroid era.

5. Craig Biggio–teammate of Bagwell at Houston. Has 3000 hits, is fifth in career doubles (behind Speaker, Rose, Musial, and Cobb). Early in his career he was thrown out stealing a lot, but got much better as his career progressed. Led the NL in steals in 1994. He began as a catcher, moved to the outfield, and to second base. Many times a player is moved to hide his glove; in Biggio’s case he moved to fill a hole. He led the NL in both putouts and assists several times. His OPS+ is 112 and his WAR 65.1.

6. Edgar Martinez–Martinez is arguably the best DH ever. Baseball gives out an annual award for the best DH. In 2004, the award was named for Martinez. He won the award five times (David Ortiz has won it seven times). He won two batting titles, along with two doubles and one RBI title. His OPS+ is 147 and his WAR is 68.3 (despite spending almost no time in the field). Unlike a lot of people, I don’t degrade a player because he is a DH. If you think about it, most players are truly one-dimensional (pitchers generally don’t hit well, many hitters are terrible fielders) and by this time, the DH is so firmly established in the American League that I can’t imagine it being deleted any time soon. That being the case, I think we have to acknowledge the contribution of the DH.

7. Don Mattingly–It’s Mattingly’s last year on the ballot and I’ve voted for him every year so I’m not about to stop now. I know the career is short, but it is centered around a very high peak. His OPS+ is 127 and his WAR 42.2. He has a batting title, two hits titles, an RBI title, three doubles titles, and an MVP. He also hit .417 with a home run and six RBIs in his only postseason experience. And before anyone asks, I was supporting him long before he began managing the Dodgers.

8. Mike Piazza–Speaking of the Dodgers, I never thought I’d be able to say that it’s possible the greatest Dodgers catcher wasn’t Roy Campanella. But Piazza makes that a true possibility. One of the best hitting catchers, he was chided for not being a particularly good throwing catcher. That’s a particular problem when Campanella is the all time leader in caught stealing percentage (Piazza’s 23% isn’t in the top 400). But Piazza was Rookie of the Year, led the NL in OPS+ twice, hit 427 home runs, has an OPS+ of 143 and a 59.4 WAR (BTW his defensive WAR isn’t all that good, but it’s seldom a negative). He’s never going to get into the Hall on his fielding (few do) but he may be the best hitting catcher ever. As with Bagwell, the steroid era problems create difficulties in electing him.

9. Tim Raines–Raines is arguably the finest leadoff hitter in NL history. He won a batting title, led the league in runs four times, in doubles once, and picked up four stolen base titles. He had the misfortune of playing at the same time as Rickey Henderson and that’s always hurt his chances to be seen independently. There’s also a nomad phase to the end of his career that is fairly lengthy and pulls down a lot of his numbers. And then, of course, there’s the lupus issue that cost him a year and the drug problem that has hampered his case. He finished with a 123 OPS+ and 69.1 WAR.

10. Alan Trammel–You can easily argue that Trammell is the best shortstop in Detroit history. He helped the 1984 team to a World Series, then won the Series MVP. He finished second in the 1987 MVP race and garnered 12 first place votes in the process. As a shortstop he almost never led the AL in any major fielding stat, but was generally well into the upper half of the league in fielding. His OPS is 110 and his WAR is 70.4 (22.0 defensive WAR).

Who am I leaving out? Actually a lot of guys. Without picking any of the steroid boys, there’s still a lot of interesting names on this ballot. At various times I’ve touted the case for Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, and Jeff Kent. Now I can add in Nomar Garciaparra as someone I’d like to take a longer look at for addition to the Hall.

There you go, team. Now you pick ’em.

 

A Baker’s Dozen Random Thoughts on the Newest Hall of Fame Vote

January 8, 2014

Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts on the just completed Hall of Fame voting cycle.

1. Congratulations to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre. It’s certainly a much more formidable list than last year (and remember I like Deacon White).

2. Sorry for Craig Biggio. The Hall is the only place in baseball that doesn’t round-up. As I mentioned in the post just below it’s happened before (see Nellie Fox) so there’s no need to cry “foul” about not letting Biggio into Cooperstown “hallowed halls.”

3. Hey, Dan LeBatard, how about letting me have your vote next year? I know something about baseball and I’m willing to listen to the people who read me before I fill out the ballot. BTW, readers,  I can be bribed cheap.

4. So 16 people didn’t think Maddux was Hall of Fame worthy. Son of a gun. Actually, I can see something of a reason for it. If I had a ballot this year I might seriously consider leaving off Maddux. Before you scream, read on. Let’s say I have 11 people I think should be in and I’m afraid that one of them (let’s call him Don Mattingly) might drop off the next ballot without my vote. I know Maddux is getting in easily (unless everybody thinks like I do), so why not add the 11th guy and leave off Maddux? Maddux gets in anyway, and I get a chance to help one of my guys stay around until I can convince the others that Mattingly deserves to be elected. I have no idea if any of the non-Maddux voters thought that way, but I hope they did, because about any other rationale is absolutely stupid. And of course it also shows how damaging the 10 vote limit is at times.

5. I understand the BBWAA website indicates that 50% of voters chose 10 names for enshrinement. That alone should tell us how truly stacked is this ballot.

6. I also understand there was one blank ballot. I have two things to say to that person. First, quit sending in a blank ballot. If there’s no one worth voting for, don’t vote. And second, “You dope.”

7. To the guy who won’t vote for anyone from the “steroid era,” which I note he didn’t define by date, see the second part of number six above.

8. To the Hall of Fame I have the following piece of advice. Dump the vote only for 10 rule. Yutz.

9. I note of the holdovers, only Mike Piazza and Biggio actually saw their percentages rise. That’s probably good for both. It’s also very bad for everyone else whose staying on the ballot next year. Barry Bonds actually polled less than 200 votes (198).

10. I’m a big opponent of letting the PED guys in the Hall, but I also favored the election of both LaRussa and Torre. Frankly, I failed to connect the two men to the PED issue. I shoulda paid more attention. That’s my mistake, no doubt about it.

11. I’m sorry Jack Morris is now off the ballot, but not sorry that Rafael Palmeiro is also gone.

12. I’m stunned Kenny Rogers only got one vote. I thought he might end up right about the 5% line. I’m also stunned that Mike Mussina didn’t do better.

13. Next year should be equally interesting with Randy Johnson almost certain to make it and with Pedro Martinez showing up for the first time. It will be interesting to see how Martinez does in light of his low win total (219), a number that still matters to most of the writers.

300 Win Lefties

December 21, 2011

In a comment on my previous post, Bill asked for my list of the 10 best southpaws. I’m going to do something like that, but not actually list them 1 through 10. I want to use this post to make a couple of comments about the six left-handers who won 300 or more games. Later I’ll look at a few that didn’t.

Warren Spahn–maybe the most consistent pitcher ever, right or left. Between 1949 and 1963 he won less than 20 games three times (1952, ’55, and ’62). He’s 42 when he wins 23 in 1963. It tied his career high. Overall he won 363 games, never more than 23 in a season. If you’re a manager, don’t you love that number? For 15 years you can pencil in 21 wins from your ace without worrying about it. His highest ERA over the period was 3.26 ( in ’55, one of the years he doesn’t get to 20 wins), his lowest was 2.10 in 1953. the 3.26 is actually closer to his normal than the 2.10, but that’s still pretty good in the high scoring era that is the 1950s. Every year he had more innings pitched than hits, and led the National League in strikeouts four times. His ERA+ hovered around 120 for most of the period, peaking at 188 in 1953.

Steve Carlton–seems to have gotten lost over the years. For years he and Nolan Ryan were in a race to record more strikeouts than anyone else. Carlton got there first, but Ryan eventually blew by him (and everyone else). Carlton won 329 games, but unlike Spahn, won them in bunches then had periods where he didn’t do so well. His 1972 is one of those years that people still mention, and frequently is the only time he is mentioned. He won 27 games, his team won 59. He led the Nl in wins four times, in strikeouts five, and in ERA and shutouts both once. While still at St. Louis he set a record for most strikeouts in a game. Late in his career he becomes a nomad and isn’t very good.

Eddie Plank–easily the most obscure of the 300 win lefties. His career began in 1901 and ended in 1917. To give you some perspective, he was pitching 100 years ago. For years, until Spahn came along, Plank was the winningest left-hander ever. He spent time in the Federal League (1915) and that makes his win total in dispute. Some sites don’t recognize the Feds or Plank’s numbers, others do. He ended up with 326 wins (305 if you leave out the Feds), a .627 winning percentage, 69 shutouts (leading the American League twice), and played on three World Series winners. He never led the AL (or the Feds) in wins, ERA, or strikeouts. The knock on him seems to be that Connie Mack never considered Plank his ace. That appears to be true of the secondset of  World Series years (1911-14), but Plank’s best years are the period 1902-06. The A’s win a pennant in 1902 (no World Series) and lose the Series in 1905. Plank doesn’t get to play for the great A’s teams until he’s beyond his prime. He’s 2-5 in Series play and does not pitch at all in the 1910 World Series victory.

Tom Glavine–the two pitcher on the great Braves staffs of the 1990s (behind Maddux). I think that hurts him a lot in much the same way that Drysdale gets hurt by being in Koufax’s shadow (not trying to compare Glavine and Drysdale directly). Glavine has a Cy Young (actually two), Maddux four. Glavine does have a World Series MVP trophy and pitched a magnificent game six in the 1995 World Series. It seems to be forgotten that he’s the ace of that 1991 Braves team that goes from last place to the World Series (and a Jack Morris masterpiece short of the championship). Overall he’s 305-203 for a .600 winning percentage. He led the NL in wins five times and in shutouts once. He was a good pitcher, but I think gets lost in the shuffle behind Maddux, as stated above, and behind the guy listed just below him in the wins column.

Randy Johnson–it’s kind of tough to say who is really the greatest left-hander ever, but a pretty good case could be made for Johnson. His record is 303-166 for a winning percentage of .646. My guess is a lot of people don’t realize his winning percentage is that high. He’s second in strikeouts (behind Ryan), his strikeouts to innings pitched ratio is Koufaxian (is that a word?), he won the strikeout title nine times, four years in a row going over 300 k’s (with two more 300+ k seasons earlier). He has a World Series ring, winning three games in the process (but is only 7-9 overall in postseason play). He wins 20 games three times, leads in ERA in winning percentage four times each, in shutouts twice, and early on walked a ton of batters. He got that last under control early and his walk to strikeout ratio is great after the first few years. He also had that easy sidearm delivery that seems to have been relatively easy on the arm and scared left-handed hitters to death. There was another Johnson whose delivery reminds me much of Randy’s. His name was Walter and he was pretty good too.

Lefty Grove–there is a school of thought that Grove is the greatest pitcher ever. I’m not in that school, but he was really good. He played in the 1920s and 1930s, huge hitting eras, and was easily the best left-hander in the American League in perhaps in all baseball (Carl Hubbell being his only competition). For his career he ended up 300-141 for a winning percentage of  .680 which is darned close to the best ever by a left-hander (Whitey Ford’s is better) and is astonishing in the era he pitched. His ERA is 3.06, again a terrific number for the age and his 2.54 ERA in the inflated year of 1930 is one of the great feats ever by a pitcher (and almost totally overlooked today). He led the AL in ERA nine times, in strikeouts seven (all in a row), in shutouts three times, and his ERA+ in 1931 was 220. In ’31 he won 31 games (don’t you just love 31 in 31?) and lost four. He appeared in three straight World Series’ going 4-2 with his team winning the first two (1929 and 1930. The loss was 1931). He ended up at Boston where he hung on long enough for 300 wins and except for his last two years (1940-41) was pretty good even then.

So there are the left-handers who won 300 games. If I were doing a top 10, all would be on the list, although not in the order listed above.

The Winningest Pitcher in the last 100 Years

June 9, 2011

Warren Spahn in wind up

On this date in 1911 Grover Cleveland Alexander won his 11th game for Philadelphia, 4-1 over Cincinnati. It made him 11-2 for the season. It also meant that at the end of the day he would go on to win 362 games for the rest of his career. That means as of today no pitcher has won more games in the last 100 years (9 June 1911 to right now) than Warren Spahn.

Somehow Spahn gets overlooked in the roll-call of great pitchers. Even if you restrict it to left-handers he tends to fall short of the top rung. I suppose there are a lot or reasons for that. He did pitch so long ago that only a few geezers like me even remember him and that enormous leg kick of his. He was never very flashy. He went out day after day season after season and won 20 games with regularity and nobody noticed. Milwaukee, and earlier Boston, were not hot spots for Major League baseball when he pitched. OK, Boston was a big deal but it was a big deal for the Red Sox, not for the Braves. He also tended to be overshadowed by his teammates. He had Johnny Sain in Boston, then came Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron. Even Lew Burdette overshadowed him for a while as a pitcher. But Spahn was always there and always winning.

Spahn had a cup of coffee with the Braves before World War II, went off to war, won a Purple Heart, then got back to the Majors in 1946. He won eight games. The next time he won less than 14 was 1964. In 1948 the Braves got to the World Series for the first time since the “Miracle Braves” of 1914. He teamed with Johnny Sain to form a formidable one-two pitching punch (“Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” was the mantra), but Boston lost to Cleveland in six games. In 1957, ’58, and ’59 the Braves were again in contention, winning the Series in ’57, losing it in ’58, and losing a best of three playoff series to Los Angeles in 1959. In 1961 he won 21 games at age 40, including his second no-hitter, proving that some players do actually get better with age without the use of steroids.  Spahn had a miserable 1964. He was traded to the Mets and then to the Giants for his final year. After retirement he coached and managed in the minors, occasionally pitching a game for his team. That put off his Hall of fame induction to 1973. He died in Oklahoma in 2003.

What Spahn did was win and eat innings for his team. Between 1947 and 1963 inclusive he won 342 games (an average of 20 a season). He led the National League in wins eight times, in winning percentage once, innings pitched four times, in complete games nine times, in shutouts five, in strikeouts four, and picked up two ERA titles. In all of that his peak number of wins was 23. In other words Spahn was winning consistently every year, not just putting together a great year followed by a weaker season, then dropping in another great year a season or so later. Between 1957 and 1961 he never won more than 22 games nor less than 21. For his career he was 363-245 (.597 winning percentage) with 2583 strikeouts, 1434 walks, an ERA of 3.09 (ERA+ of 119) and a 1.195 WHIP. He even picked up 29 saves along the way. All while facing 21,547 batters. In the World Series he was 4-3 with 32 strikeouts and 13 walks, and ERA of 3.05 (almost dead-on his regular season average) and 1.071 WHIP.

He also had a decent sense of humor and was something of a philosopher. He gave up Willie Mays’ first home run. In later years Spahn said he took full responsibility for Mays’ career. If he’d gotten him out, maybe Mays would have ended up back in the Minors and National League pitchers would have been spared a lot of grief. He is also supposed to have come up with the comment to the effect that hitting is timing. Pitching is disrupting timing (I’ve seen that quoted a couple of ways, so it isn’t in quotation marks.). Not a bad philosophy for a pitcher.

Over the years there has been a lot of discussion about which left-hander was the greatest. Lefty Grove gets a lot of support. So do Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton. Sandy Koufax enters some discussions, as does Carl Hubbell. But Spahn almost never does. The others were each, in their own way, more spectacular, but none was more consistent than Spahn.I know it’s fashionable to downplay the “win”statistic, but back in the 1950s (the bulk of Spahn’s career) it meant more. Pitchers completed more games, regularly pitched more innings, certainly started more games. Those make the win a more important stat in the era than it is today. And Warren Spahn has more of them than anyone else in the last 100 years.

Someone, at least, finally recognized Spahn’s greatness. In 1999 the Warren Spahn Award was initiated recognizing the best lefty in baseball. Randy Johnson won the first one (actually the first four) and Spahn was there to hand it to him. I always thought that was nice of them.

Warren Spahn Award trophy

Best of a Decade

January 1, 2010

Yesterday I commented on a variety of the top baseball things of the 200’s. Today I give you my all-decade team. These are my choices for best of the decade. One proviso, no one tainted by the steroids scandal can make the team, so no Bonds, no Sosa, no Palmeiro, no Clemens, no Rodriguez. I’m making no judgement on guilt or innocence, but exclude the player until such time as we can determine if his numbers are bogus. If they aren’t, I’ll be glad to change the list, but until then, here they are. The outfielders are designated A, B, and C. The order is alphabetical and nothing else should be construed from the order.

1b-Albert Pujols. This may have been the easiest choice of all. Maybe the greatest First Baseman I’ve ever seen and I can go back to Gil Hodges and company. It’s been a great era for First Basemen and Pujols is clearly the best.

2b-Chase Utley. It’s not been a great era for Second Basemen, but Utley is the best of the lot. He’s a good fielder and a first rate hitter with some speed and power. He does have a tendency to tail off a bit at the end of a season and gets hurt a lot.

ss-Derek Jeter. Yankees captain and sparkplug. Not as good as some people seem to think (he is not the second coming of Honus Wagner) but still one heck of a shortstop. Seems to be on the downside of his career, but still putting up excellent offensive numbers. He may be next to 3000 hits.

3b-Chipper Jones. The Braves seem to want to move him to the outfield but always end up putting him back at third. Good bat, but now in the decline phase of his career.

Outfield A-Torii Hunter. Superb centerfielder. Also a good hitter. Seems to be a positive influence in the clubhouse.

Outfield B-Manny Ramirez. I get a little tired of his act and I cringe when the ball is hit his way, but wow can he hit the ball. World Series MVP and major contributor to breaking an 80 years plus championship drought in Boston.

Outfield C-Ichiro Suzuki. An absolute hitting machine. Most hits in one season, speedy, good fielder, helped make Japanese players more acceptable to US audiences. Between US and Japan he may end up with 4000 hits.

Catcher-Joe Mauer. May become the greatest hitting catcher ever. Certainly already among the best. Also a fine defensive backstop. Has 3 batting titles (no catcher has more and only 1 has as many as 2) and an MVP.

DH-David Ortiz. Dominent DH for much of the decade. Lots of power, little speed, not much of a fielder, but crucial to Boston winning in 2004 (when he was league championship MVP) and in 2007. Seems to be deeply on the downside of his career.

Pitcher-Randy Johnson. I saw Spahn, Koufax and Carlton so it’s tough to call him the greatest left hander I ever saw, but he is very, very good. Three Cy Young Awards in the decade, one World Series win and the MVP to go with it, and lots and lots of wins and strikeouts. He’s through now and I hope he hangs it up (I’ll get to see him in Cooperstown quicker).

Closer-Mariano Rivera. The best postseason closer ever, although he botched game 7 of the 2001 World Series and 2 chances to close out the 2004 AL championship. Still he’s just better than anyone else, and he’s not bad in the regular season either.

There they are, team. So who’d I forget?